FOR THE LOVE OF TRUCKING - Henry Kuperus
FOR THE LOVE OF TRUCKING
Legend Nominee: Henry Kuperus
As children, when urged to pick a dream job – a career that they can visualize themselves as adults – the concept of “work” doesn’t quite weigh in on the process of selection. Many are familiar with options from the environment they are subjected to; wanting to mirror the roles of their loved ones. While others may feel drawn to patterns that deem fun or heroic, peeking the interests of their imagination. Such as, veterinarians – who seriously wouldn’t want to play with puppies all day? That enjoyable aspect provides a heartfelt vision, certainly a job title children would label as amusing. After all, we are told to find a job that you have a passion for, so that every day spent at work leads to happiness, versus a daily grind of drudgery.
A few other highly favored dream jobs among kids revolve around the emergency medical services (EMS) career field: firefighters, police officers, and paramedics, etc. – saving lives, while driving signature vehicles with intense sirens that are recognizable within ear-shot, paints an appealing picture to most children. The sheer bravery of our nation’s first responders is far greater than we can comprehend until stepping into their shoes. Along with our military branches of service – the men and women who take an oath to protect and serve our country with no sacrifice too great – their uniforms represent a type of adult that children idolize. These are all fantastic choices seeing that each line of work demonstrates a courageous act of service; understanding that they too can make a difference in this world speaks for the minds of our future generations.
Some kids lean more toward the creative direction, aspiring to be artists, musicians, scientists or athletes – all expressing one’s identity in a sense of validation, though still repeating the desire to extend comfort, relief, or support. While others know very early on that their dream job is more than an idea bounced around to allude the many professions that are popular on account of the recognition accompanied with the labeled position. For example, this Legend nominee wanted to be a truck driver for as far back as he can remember. With very little connection to the business, his adoration for our highway heroes comes from a special place in his heart that can only be translated among other truck drivers.
The brotherhood within the trucking community believe in their service to the public and the core principles entrusted upon each professional driver: take care of your family, treat everyone with kindness, and work hard. Choosing to operate a semi-truck isn’t a profession many would consider a dream job. However, for Henry Kuperus – a farm kid from Eagle Bend, Minnesota – in his opinion, driving a truck for a living would be an honor; a career to be earned and greatly respected.
There is no fame or global celebrity status achieved for truck drivers, despite dedicating an entire life’s work. Attaining success driving a truck for a living exists within the heart of each driver. For Henry, his success is not determined by numbers in a bank account but revolves around the well-being of his family. By providing a good lifestyle for his loved ones through trucking and being present in their lives as a husband and father is the only victory worth achieving.
Having known each other since elementary school, Henry and his wife, Amanda grew up together. Her father also drove trucks, that familiarity as a trucker’s kid would later come into play. After graduating high school the two went their separate ways, Amanda joined the National Guard. Once out of the service, the couple reconnected, dated for five years, later tying the knot in 2002. Together, they have two daughters, Evangelia (15) and Braelynn (13) – whom have both joined their father in the truck on several trips, sharing his love of exploring the country.
Recently, Amanda accompanied her husband to Nashville for the NASTC’s 29th Annual Conference, where Henry was named one of the Drivers of the Year for 2019. The highly coveted award is presented to a select few, over 1,000 companies nominate drivers from all across the nation in recognition of their outstanding driving record, professionalism, and over-all commitment to exceeding the highest of standards for all truck drivers.
Henry was nominated by the owners of Brenny Transportation, Todd and Joyce Brenny. Based out of St. Joseph, Minnesota, he leased on with the family-owned company in 2013 driving for the Specialized Division running long-haul. Unaware of his nomination, the announcement of his big win came as a shock. Stating,
“At first, I couldn’t believe it! All of the attention has been very humbling in many ways. For me, I have always felt that truck drivers needed this type of recognition, because they have been my personal heroes for so long. Receiving this award is an absolute honor, but it was sort of strange because the guys that I learned from over my 23-year career are the ones who deserve this the most. Then, I have to remember – I am that old school driver now, so I accept this moment of appreciation to help shine a light on every truck driver out here, young and old. There is a gap in the respect between all of us as a body of truck drivers, as well as how the world views us. Growing up, truckers were admired for their hard work and compassion towards helping others. People need to know that we are still those same truckers, and drivers of all ages need to come together. This award is for every one of us.”
TO THE CORE
Henry grew up on a dairy farm with his two brothers and sister. His entire family were farmers, meaning each individual participated in the upkeep of the farm. Some of his duties consisted of cleaning barns and raking the hay fields. The opportunity to drive any of the equipment, particularly the tractors was considered a privilege – due to the trust and skill required to operate such machinery. Determined to hold his own, Henry began driving tractors by age six. He used the pastures as a training space to practice backing up properly, which proved beneficial many years later in the seat of a semi-truck.
After graduating high school, Henry enrolled at a technical college and began a six-month course studying truck driving. He was taught how to change oil, adjust brakes – the overall maintenance of different transmissions, while also training how to shift, drive in reverse, etc. One piece of advice passed down to him from his instructor was never lose track of the vehicles around you when driving. Henry explains, “Our guy in the safety department states that truck drivers make up to 2,000 decisions in a single day’s work – dealing with traffic, loads, and so on. The mind of a trucker is constantly in motion, so when you notice a vehicle, don’t forget they are there even if they leave your lane of travel. I attribute having no accidents all of these years to that one bit of advice.”
He continues his offering of suggestions by stating, “Truck drivers need to train their eyes to scan traffic.” Remaining aware of your surrounding at all times comes with experience on the road, but it is never too early to make it a habit. Currently in a 2019 Kenworth T680, this is his sixth truck since crossing over from company to owner operator in 2006, though this one is his first brand new truck.
Henry’s driving experience expands from dry van, flatbed, refrigerated freight to railroad containers and specialized trailers (RGN and step deck). With his CDL in pocket by the age of 18, he was still unable to run over-the-road until 21. For four years, he drove for a small fleet owner who worked for the state highway department, pulling hopper bottom trailers hauling grain. Combining his training from college and shadowing his father-in-law, when the opportunity to drive a truck full-time presented itself Henry was well prepared. Little did Henry know; those four years would deliver the most effective growing pains of his entire journey to-date.
“The first guy that I drove for had a huge influence on my driving career. He let me run the business as an owner operator, which sounds great but at the time it was challenging. He let me struggle and figure things out on my own. It was during that time frame when I learned the most, about the business and myself… and I’m still learning. Life is one big challenge, in a good way. You can’t improve without change and growth. Because I experienced that hardship at the beginning of my career, I was able to learn and develop my skillset as a driver early on. I am thankful for every obstacle that I’ve had to overcome, then and now.”
I’ve been told repeatedly by professionals with long-term careers in the business that the two most important elements are determination and perseverance. Naturally, with over 2.8 million lifetime miles, Henry agrees with the consensus. As for finding the balance of work and home-life, he attributes to a combination of a couple different components. First, Amanda’s background – coming from a trucking family – she supports Henry’s profession and understands that the quality time he sacrifices being away on the road is done so with good intentions. In turn, when he is home, he is completely present with everyone. Once he parks his truck at home, he is officially off the clock, leaving all things trucking in the truck – freeing up as much time as possible to spend with his loved ones. By separating work and his home-life, the amount of effort in keeping his family’s needs first and the positive encouragement received from his spouse all push him to be the truck driver many know today; family-oriented, reliable and honest.
The Kuperus family resides on a 40-acre farm, together they enjoy the outdoors – hunting, fishing, and visiting state parks. When he hits the road, larger scale cities don’t impress him much. But a true Minnesotan from the “Land of the 10,000 Lakes” any open areas that resemble home tend to draw his attention. Such as, the East coast near the Maine North shore and Michigan’s Great Lakes. Although the scenic roads out West, he describes as breathtaking. During his girls’ summer breaks from school, they have traveled in the truck over to Montana and Wyoming. The temperatures offered the typical summer conditions, while the mountains in the distance were still capped with snow – the views were always their favorite.
When trucking alone, Henry says that the single most impactful teaching tool that he applies daily is practicing the act of kindness. Being slow with judgement when crossing paths with strangers; instead of matching one’s headstrong personality, he tries to meet with a soft handshake or listening ear. You will find that whatever attitude is deflected upon you could very well be the result of sadness or pain – which could be lightened with a simple smile and kind eyes. You never know what someone is going through, so being considerate and friendly costs absolutely nothing. Henry continues, “It helps in this line of work with as many people as we see and talk to, to be open… give people a chance. Everyone has a story, you can either help make it better or worse. Try to always pick the high road.”
2019 rounded out to be a great year for Henry, with his brand-new truck and being selected as one of the fourteen NASTC Drivers of the Year. He also served his first year on Brenny Transportation’s Driver Review Board. Being an active voice on behalf of his fellow drivers is a role that Henry takes pride in. A driver-friendly company, Brenny Transportation values their drivers, as well as their interests, opinions, and needs. If just starting out as a driver, Henry recommends finding a family-owned operation with like-minded principles that want their drivers to succeed – all aspects that make Brenny Transportation his second home. We end our interview with Henry’s final statement,
“Brenny Transportation treats everyone like family, we’re not just a number. They like to have everyone involved and recognize the hard work each one of us puts into the company. They take care of me when I’m away from my family and see to it that I return home to them safely. With the support of both, Brenny Transportation and my family – life is as good as it gets.”